Returning From Parental Leave Can Be Stressful. How Some Employers Aim to Fix That.
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Returning From Parental Leave Can Be Stressful. How Some Employers Aim to Fix That.

Companies increasingly are creating formal ‘reboarding’ programs to help new parents transition back to work more easily

By TARA WEISS
Thu, Feb 1, 2024 8:41amGrey Clock 5 min

Sarah Tucker-Ray, a partner in McKinsey’s Washington, D.C., office, felt a lot of trepidation when she took a six-month parental leave in 2022.

“There is fear about, ‘Am I going to get written out of the story?’ ” says the 36-year-old Tucker-Ray, whose daughter, Viviana, was born in August 2022. “Is someone going to step in for me and take over? How will I come back?”

She addressed those fears in a reintegration plan that she drafted before going on leave. It included instructions for those who would be covering her workload while she was out, and it laid out what she wanted her job to look like when she returned. For example, Tucker-Ray didn’t want her role to change significantly, but she asked to not be given any internal projects—those focused on McKinsey’s own operations versus those of outside clients—during her first six months back. She also thought about small stuff, such as writing down all of her passwords, and she connected with other working mothers at the company who served as peer counselors before she went on leave.

“They told me that the goal for week one is to get dressed, have breakfast with my baby, get into a suit without getting spilled on and get out the door,” she says. “It sounds so basic but I hadn’t had to do that yet.”

The days, weeks, and months after a new parent returns to work after leave can be a critical and challenging time for an employee. Many experience anxiety about how they are going to manage work and parenting, and some end up feeling like a failure at both.

To address that, some organisations have launched formal “reboarding” programs that structure those first months back after leave so they aren’t overwhelming for new parents, while also providing them with emotional support. McKinsey tested such a program in Europe and then expanded it globally

Many see it as a business imperative. Organisations are making substantial investments in paid maternity and paternity leave—in 2023, 40% of organisations in a Society for Human Resource Management survey offered paid maternity leave and 32% offered paid paternity leave—and they want to ensure new parents return to work and are productive and content when they do.

Tucker-Ray was happy to learn that McKinsey would cover the cost of her daughter and her husband to join her on a business trip. PHOTO: ELIZABETH FRANTZ FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Creating a plan

A successful reboarding program requires planning, and it and starts long before an employee goes on leave, consultants and HR leaders say. It begins with mapping out a comprehensive work-coverage plan, including if and under what circumstances the employee wants to be contacted about work while out on leave. The plan also should create clear expectations about what the return-to-work will look like, including the employee’s job description post-leave and even an explanation of what that first daunting day back might entail.

Many reboarding programs also connect new moms with experienced working parents or colleagues who have recently returned from parental leaves, as well as a coach (often an outside consultant) who can help set priorities and guidance on best practices.

When Maria del Mar Martinez became head of McKinsey’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in Europe in 2018, she learned that working moms left the management-consulting firm at nearly double the rate of their childless female peers with similar tenure. In exit interviews, women shared common grievances, including the challenge of balancing parenthood with a demanding job, a lack of support from their managers and few role models.

She heard similar sentiments in Asia and the U.S.

“That was a business problem,” says del Mar Martinez, now the global head of DEI at McKinsey. “I don’t want to lose those amazing women coming up the pipeline.”

To combat attrition, del Mar Martinez created a reboarding pilot program in Europe that included coaching employees before, during and after a parental leave. (Men are eligible to take part in the program if they have taken 12 weeks or more of leave.)

Built into the plan was a guarantee that new parents would have “meaningful work” upon their return, with the option of slowing down if that’s what they wanted, says del Mar Martinez. One issue, she and others say, is that managers often incorrectly assume that new mothers want lighter workloads or don’t want to travel, which is why it’s important for employees to spell out their preferences in a reboarding plan.

The McKinsey pilot required managers to confirm they understood their employee’s reintegration plan and to calibrate goals in performance reviews to ensure the person taking leave wouldn’t be penalised.

It worked. McKinsey closed the European attrition gap in 18 months, del Mar Martinez says, and later expanded the program globally.

The manager’s role

Other companies are increasing the support they offer to new parents, too, including Wall Street’s Morgan Stanley, which in 2019 appointed Allyson Bronner head of family advocacy at the company’s institutional division, a full-time position that focuses on supporting employees before, during and after parental leaves.

Bronner says one of the best ways to ensure a successful return experience for new parents is to include managers in the process.

To that end, she meets with an expecting employee’s manager between the 25th and 30th week of pregnancy to preview what the employee’s return-to-work will look like and discuss best practices for easing the transition.

“It’s important to set the scene and give them tools to manage their employees,” she says.

She says her next meeting with the manager occurs about a month before the employee is due back to discuss how the first month should be structured. She suggests the manager call the new parent two to three weeks ahead to preview what the first few days back will look like—namely, checking email and showing colleagues baby pictures.

The support continues throughout the first several months, with managers having weekly check-ins with the employee for the first six weeks and then monthly check-ins after that. Bronner encourages managers to ask new parents how they are doing and how their child care is going to determine whether they would benefit from more support or advice in that area.

Since Morgan Stanley created the family advocacy role, “it feels like there has been a culture shift,” Bronner says. “It’s hard to quantify in numbers, but culturally it feels like we’re moving in a more positive direction.”

A culture shift is also under way at chip-equipment maker ASML, which recently expanded the paid parental leave it offers and in May joined forces with employee-benefits firm Parentaly to create a support system for new parents.

ASML is in a male-dominated industry, says Karen Reinhardt, the firm’s chief human-resource officer in the U.S., so retaining women is critical to having a diverse workforce.

As of December, 82 employees had registered for the reboarding program, “more people than we expected,” Reinhardt says.

Among them is Meredith Polm Sheain of San Diego, a knowledge-management developer who went out on maternity leave in late August. In her reboarding plan, she made clear that she wanted to be notified while on leave about any bumps in a recently launched product. She also laid out her priorities for the first two months of her return.

“I felt so much better about the concept of returning to work once I gave my team this plan,” says Polm Sheain, who returned to work on Dec. 22. “I left them and myself in the best position I could.”

Reboarding isn’t the only new benefit companies are offering to make life easier for new parents.

McKinsey’s Tucker-Ray was asked to attend a partner conference in Atlanta about six weeks after returning from maternity leave. The firm covered the cost of her daughter and caregiver (her husband) to join her on the trip since she was still breast-feeding.

“I would have been torn about going away for nearly a week for an internal event but it became a nonevent,” she says. “It got rid of the barrier to feeling you can’t participate fully in parenting and be a leader.”



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A Killer Golf Swing Is a Hot Job Skill Now

Companies are eager to hire strong players who use hybrid work schedules to schmooze clients on the course

By CALLUM BORCHERS
Fri, Jun 14, 2024 5 min

Standout golfers who aren’t quite PGA Tour material now have somewhere else to play professionally: Corporate America.

People who can smash 300-yard drives and sink birdie putts are sought-after hires in finance, consulting, sales and other industries, recruiters say. In the hybrid work era, the business golf outing is back in a big way.

Executive recruiter Shawn Cole says he gets so many requests to find ace golfers that he records candidates’ handicaps, an index based on average number of strokes over par, in the information packets he submits to clients. Golf alone can’t get you a plum job, he says—but not playing could cost you one.

“I know a guy that literally flies around the world in a private jet loaded with French wine, and he golfs and lands hundred-million-dollar deals,” Cole says.

Tee times and networking sessions have long gone hand-in-golf-glove. Despite criticism that doing business on the course undermines diversity, equity and inclusion efforts—and the fact that golf clubs haven’t always been open to women and minorities —people who mix golf and work say the outings are one of the last reprieves from 30-minute calendar blocks

Stars like Tiger Woods and Michelle Wie West helped expand participation in the sport. Still, just 22% of golfers are nonwhite and 26% are women, according to the National Golf Foundation.

To lure more people, clubs have relaxed rules against mobile-phone use on the course, embracing white-collar professionals who want to entertain clients on the links without disconnecting from the office. It’s no longer taboo to check email from your cart or take a quick call at the halfway turn.

With so much other business conducted virtually, shaking hands on the green and schmoozing over clubhouse beers is now seen as making an extra effort, not slacking off.

Americans played a record 531 million rounds last year. Weekday play has nearly doubled since 2019, with much of the action during business hours , according to research by Stanford University economist Nicholas Bloom .

“It would’ve been scandalous in 2019 to be having multiple meetings a week on the golf course,” Bloom says. “In 2024, if you’re producing results, no one’s going to see anything wrong with it.”

A financial adviser at a major Wall Street bank who competes on the amateur circuit told me he completes 90% of his tasks by 10 a.m. because he manages long-term investment plans that change infrequently. The rest of his workday often involves golfing with clients and prospects. He’s a member of a private club with a multiyear waiting list, and people jump at the chance to join him on a course they normally can’t access.

There is an art to bringing in business this way. He never initiates shoptalk, telling his playing partners the round is about having fun and getting to know each other. They can’t resist asking about investment strategies by the back nine, he says.

Work hard, play hard

Matt Parziale golfed professionally on minor-league tours for several years, but when his dream of making the big time ended, he had to get a regular job. He became a firefighter, like his dad.

A few years later he won one of the biggest amateur tournaments in the country, earning spots in the 2018 Masters and U.S. Open, where he tied for first among non-pros.

The brush with celebrity brought introductions to business types that Parziale, 35 years old, says he wouldn’t have met otherwise. One connection led to a job with a large insurance broker. In 2022 he jumped to Deland, Gibson Insurance Associates in Wellesley, Mass., which recognised his golf game as a tool to help win large accounts.

He rescheduled our interview because he was hosting clients at a private club on Cape Cod, and squeezed me in the next morning, before teeing off with a business group in Newport, R.I.

A short time ago, Parziale couldn’t imagine making a living this way. Now he’s the norm in elite amateur golf circles.

“I look around at the guys at the events I play, and they all have these jobs ,” he says.

His boss, Chief Executive Chip Gibson, says Parziale is good at bringing in business because he puts as much effort into building relationships as honing his game. A golf outing is merely an opportunity to build trust that can eventually lead to a deal, and it’s a misconception that people who golf during work hours don’t work hard, he says.

Barry Allison’s single-digit handicap is an asset in his role as a management consultant at Accenture , where he specialises in travel and hospitality. He splits time between Washington, D.C., and The Villages, Fla., a golf mecca that boasts more than 50 courses.

It can be hard to get to know people in distributed work environments, he says. Go golfing and you’ll learn a lot about someone’s temperament—especially after a bad shot.

“If you see a guy snap a club over his knee, you don’t know what he’s going to snap next,” Allison says.

Special access

On a recent afternoon I was a lunch guest at Brae Burn Country Club, a private enclave outside Boston that was the site of U.S. Golf Association championships won by legends like Walter Hagen and Bobby Jones. I parked in the second lot because the first one was full—on a Wednesday.

My host was Cullen Onstott, managing director of the Onstott Group executive search firm and a former collegiate golfer at Fairfield University. He explained one reason companies prize excellent golfers is they can put well-practiced swings on autopilot and devote most of their attention to chitchat.

It’s hard to talk with potential customers about their needs and interests when you’re hunting for errant shots in the woods. It’s also challenging if you show off.

The first hole at Brae Burn is a 318-yard par 4 that slopes down, enabling big hitters like Onstott to reach the putting green in a single stroke. But to stay close to his playing partners and keep the conversation flowing, he sometimes hits a shorter shot.

Having an “in” at an exclusive club can make you a catch. Bo Burch, an executive recruiter in North Carolina, says clubs in his region tend to attract members according to their business sectors. One might be chock-full of real-estate investors while another has potential buyers of industrial manufacturing equipment.

Burch looks for candidates who are members of clubs that align with his clients’ industries, though he stresses that business acumen comes first when filling positions.

Tami McQueen, a former Division I tennis player and current chief marketing officer at Atlanta investment firm BIP Capital, signed up for private golf lessons this year. She had noticed colleagues were wearing polos with course logos and bringing their clubs to work. She wanted in.

McQueen joined business associates on the golf course for the first time in March at the PGA National Resort in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. She has lowered her handicap to a respectable 26 and says her new skill lends a professional edge.

“To be able to say, ‘I can play with you and we can have those business meetings on the course’ definitely opens a lot more doors,” she says.

MOST POPULAR
11 ACRES ROAD, KELLYVILLE, NSW

This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

35 North Street Windsor

Just 55 minutes from Sydney, make this your creative getaway located in the majestic Hawkesbury region.

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